Posts Tagged Tottenham Hotspur

During the Week: What a Card Can Do, FFP Farcical and More


Jose Mourinho did say the world would stop when both teams met in the return leg of their Champions League first knockout round match, what he and the world didn’t envisage was the referee’s decision being the source of the ‘stop’.

Manchester United had just taken the lead and the way it was going, Real Madrid was going to have a tough time getting back in the match… until Luis Nani’s foot ran into Alvaro Arbeloa as both went for a ball.

Cuneyt Cakir’s decision to show Nani a straight red left the Portuguese perplexed along with the rest of Old Trafford, while Sir Alex Ferguson was miffed. Yes he had stamped into Arbeloa’s ribs going for the ball but he clearly didn’t intend to.

That said, Cakir maintains he made the right decision and in time those who feel otherwise (pretty much ‘everyone’ in a general sense of the word) would see so. Roy Keane, much to ‘everyone”s disdain agreed it was the right decision. Most importantly however, former reverred referee Pierluigi Collina stated the referee’s decision was the right one.

All that said, such decisions cut deep into the emotions of those associated with the team affected. And apparently, it is capable also of overshadowing an entire match elsewhere as Borussia Dortmund’s very impressive 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk same night almost went unnoticed.

Nani’s red anyway only brings back memories of Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting a straight red at Valencia for basically going after the ball with an opponent like Nani (more so without a high foot), or Robin van Persie’s infamous red at the Nou Camp while he was at Arsenal… or Laurent Koscielny’s red against Manchester City, not to mention Vincent Kompany’s later in same match though his was later rescinded… and many more ‘unfair reds’, life goes on really.

And as life goes on, the money keeps piling up for the already rich clubs. At least it does for Paris Saint Germain that reportedly is close to selling its naming rights to its Parc des Princes stadium, a deal which could earn the glamour French side €100m a year.

If that sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank happens, coupled with the four year, $800m deal it has with the Qatar Tourism Authority, PSG will be in line to get about €250m at least from next season.

Such whooping amounts, excluding prize money from the Champions League where it is now in the last eight along with domestic competitions and other sponsorship deals, puts PSG well over the green line as it concerns UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule.

And it goes to show how much of a farce the FFP rule really is, requiring clubs to get their finances in order so as to prevent obscene spending by clubs in the transfer market. A club like PSG however can still make audacious moves in the transfer market as it did in the signings of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan at the start of the season.

Then there’s the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona that already pull massive revenue from merchandising alone, Chelsea, Manchester City and co with wealthy owners and Arsenal with its peculiarly shrewd yet lucrative financial methods, the FFP really would do next to nothing to ‘sanitise’ the transfer market and/or curtail their excesses.

On the contrary, an Everton or Bayer Leverkusen for instance, which in all honesty cannot attract the kind of sponsorship suitors the rich clubs can, will have to make do with far less lucrative deals and only earn more by doing great in the domestic and continental Cups and/or managing to qualify for the Champions League group stage regularly.

What the FFP would ultimately achieve is create a financial gulf between the mega rich clubs and the financially stable ones, opening a yet wider gulf between the rich clubs and the modest likes of Everton for example. Simply put, the rich get richer and the rest just exist.

Would the potential of rich clubs getting richer affect homegrown talent coming through to the first team? Possibly. Then again, that’s why the smaller clubs are there so the homegrown talent get loaned to them till it’s there time.

There always are exceptions though, one or a handful of clubs that do manage to break the monopoly and ruffle the feathers. Tottenham Hotspur may well be one such club, after picking successive crucial wins in the last week.

First the Lilywhites beat local rivals Arsenal last weekend to hold the advantage in the race to finish in the Premier League’s Champions League spots, before easing to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in a first leg, last 16 match of the Europa League.

It however remains to be seen if the club can keep hold of Gareth Bale, the nucleus of Spurs’ above average season so far, beyond this season. In my opinion I think Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, with qualification to next season’s Champions League and Europa League glory within their grasp.

In the Europa League, Spurs are favourites to make the last eight – and indeed go all the way – along with SS Lazio that came away from Vfb Stuttgart with a 2-0 win, while European champions Chelsea has its work cut out following a lone goal defeat at Steaua Bucharest.

Fenerbahçe hold a lone goal advantage from its trip to Napoli’s conqueror Viktoria Plzeň while Newcastle United will be confident ahead of the home leg after playing out a goalless draw at Samuel Eto’o’s Anzhi Machačkala.

The Magpies, who were without Papiss Cisse and only played Shola Ameobi for about half an hour in Russia, will have both available as they look to edge even closer to the Premier League midtable in the match at home to Stoke City on Sunday.

Eyes on Sunday will be on Anfield and Old Trafford however, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur squaring up in a league match while Chelsea embarks on a tough trip to face Man. United in a 6th Round FA Cup match. Both matches however kickoff half an hour apart, which is just plain wrong but we’ll manage.

Before Super Sunday in England, in-form AC Milan will prepare for its Champions League match at Barcelona next week with a trip to struggling Genoa in the Serie A tonight, while in the Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund visit Schalke 04 on Saturday evening in the Ruhr derby before La Liga’s bottom side Deportivo La Coruña face Barcelona at the Nou Camp later on Saturday.

On Sunday, after the big matches in England, there is second hosting third in Ligue Un when Olympique Lyon play Olympique Marseille while Lazio and Fiorentina face off in Rome as both chase a win to keep them in touch of finishing in a Champions League place on the Serie A table.

Other matches to look out for this weekend include Bayern Munich hosting Fortuna Düsseldorf, primed for another win on Saturday as the Bavarians barge towards the Bundesliga title while struggling Nancy visit Ligue Un table toppers PSG also on Saturday.

Reading and Aston Villa meet in a Premier League relegation battle at the Madejski on Saturday, Atletico Madrid will look to maintain second place in La Liga ahead of Real when sixth place Real Sociedad visit the Calderon while Juventus face Catania in Italy.

Hopefully, a referee’s decision won’t overshadow any match this weekend, even if Howard Webb has been appointed to oversee the FA Cup match at Old Trafford.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Hope you have an exciting weekend.

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London Olympics: Football’s Headache in Uniting a Kingdom


At club level, England boasts of some of the world’s best football teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United, alone with eight European Cup wins to their name along with the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea while Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City should probably have their ambitions of breaking the Big-Four’s monopoly taken more seriously based on both’s improvement over the last few seasons, culminating in Spurs reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter final in only its first appearance last season and City lifting the last FA Cup, defeating city rivals United along the way.

The rest of the British Isle lies well behind the English Premier League both competitively and lucratively with the closest competition, the Scottish Premier League, being a standard golf course apart from matching the EPL’s prowess and global appeal with some yards to spare.

While the biggest clubs from the other nations of the British Isle have been unable to match their English counterparts, those nations have actually produced quality footballers that have reached the heights, some of whom are Liverpool’s Scottish manager Kenny Dalglish who is part of Celtic’s greatest team of all time along with fellow Scot Jimmy Johnstone. Other fine footballers these nations have produced are Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale from Wales, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gordon, Kris Boyd and Allan McGregor from Scotland as well as Irishmen John O’Shea, Ian Hart, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane among many others.

Unfortunately, most of these footballers along with their English counterparts have achieved naught in their international sojourns despite their potential being capable of earning such acclaim as evident with their individual successes at club level.

Hence, the British Olympic Association’s move to have a Great Britain football team participate at the London Olympics of 2012 rather than the individual nations with the logic being to afford footballers from each nation of the Isle such as those aforementioned; and the individual nations on the side, the chance to have a taste of success at the international level.

It should be noted that the closest international success came to any nation of the Isle was at the European Championship of 1996 with England only able to reach the semi-final stage. A decade and half of underachievement at four FIFA World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic Games have since been endured.

This gives credence to the BOA’s idea of a Great Britain football team representing at the Olympics London will host. The manner the Association has gone about bringing the team to fluid fruition may however have put the dream in jeopardy with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations claiming that the BOA only approached the English FA with the idea, and therefore cannot be seen to be in agreement with creating a football team for Great Britain.

The trio also stated that being a part of the proposal will confuse the individual identities of the nations. This is despite that FIFA has assured the BOA of each nation’s identity remaining intact in the aftermath of them contributing to the cause.

I strongly believe both sides should drop the egos and reach a compromise on the matter because in reality, none of the nations in the Isle can put up a commendable showing, let alone win Olympic gold come 2012; England’s U-21s a typical reason as to why. Having the best of each nation however may see Great Britain put up a commendable performance in front of the cheering faithfuls on home turf.

As it is now, should BOA go ahead with its plan of having a Great Britain football team for the first time since the Rome Olympics of 1960 without reaching a compromise with the trio that are being initially stubborn, then such team will likely predominantly compose of English players. Any success achieved then would not be shared!

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EPL Players of the Season 2010/11


Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez, the little pea in the big league

Snapped up from Chivas Guadalajara just before a commendable World Cup campaign in South Africa for Mexico, ‘Chicharito’ arrived Old Trafford, scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and made such an impact at the Theatre of Dreams that Dimitar Berbatov’s long overdue return on goals for the money spent on him could not save him from losing his first team place to the diminutive Mexican.

Peter Osaze Odemwingie
Mostly condemned for moving to a club of Westbromwich-Albion’s stature by fans back in Nigeria and abused racially for leaving Lokomotiv Moscow by fans of the Russian club, Osaze went about his business and his sterling performances for the Baggies through the season; bagging 15 goals along the way, was more than enough to silence his critics and announce his talents to the English game. Being named PFA Player of the Month twice added good icing to his cake.

Robin van Persie
This Dutchman’s form for Arsenal, laden as always with time on the sidelines due to injury, deserved a trophy but just like his goal in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, it simply didn’t prove enough. Van Persie however should be proud of his individual performances this season having finished with 18 league goals this season; the first of those scored on New Year’s Day, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and former teammate Thierry Henry for most goals scored between January and season’s end. He also shot his way to breaking Didier Drogba’s record of scoring in six consecutive away league matches by scoring in nine consecutive away league matches.

Luka Modric

Luka Modric

Luka Modric (Spurs' engine) would be the player in the background with both arms raised, with Van der Vaart (Spurs' sleek exterior) celebrating in the fore

Where Rafael van Der Vaart was the sleek outer design of the Tottenham Hotspur team, Croatian playmaker Modric was the engine under the hood that truly ran the show with space-opening passes, playing self and team out of trouble and providing the occasional assist. Modric indeed is the unsung star of Tottenham this season and you just feel a far less calamitous goalkeeper and more consistent forwards will see the top echelon of the Premier League be even more competitive.

Darren Bent

After leaving Sunderland in January the dearth in goal became obvious at the Stadium of Light, much to the benefit of Aston Villa where between the New Year and March he became top scorer of the Villans with 10 goals in 16 league appearances; including two in a memorable win at Arsenal at on the penultimate weekend of the season

Wayne Rooney
All he needs is a moment to show why every opposition defender is ever unsettled when Rooney appears on the starting sheet of Manchester United on any given weekend and weekday. Every season his game improves steady and his scoring touch has remained at a good level for a forward, his team play has improved tremendously and it’s when the team performs that managers are happy; individual performances come as added bonus really.

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines played in all of Everton's league matches this season, scoring five while at it

Everton would be better off in the league had the club attained same level of consistency as Baines. His occasional goals and high return on assists only bettered by Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba (according to Opta Sports) along with assured performances week after week for all 38 league matches amazingly, deservedly earned him the club’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season as well as Goal of the Season.

Jack Wilshere
Bolton Wanderers had a request to have the teenage English midfielder back on loan at the Reebok Stadium rejected few days to the start of the season and it proved to an invaluable decision by Arsène Wenger as evident by a consistent return of stellar individual performances for Arsenal all through the 49 matches he played in all competitions; one that deserved a trophy as reward… one that eluded the team.

Gareth Bale
Most unfortunately for the Three Lions of England, Bale is Welsh. A fact that made his explosive form for Tottenham Hotspur one worthy of much praise and enough for him to win the PFA Player of the Year although… winning that accolade was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision from the Queens’ men.

Edwin van Der Sar

Edwin van der Sar

Edwin van der Sar saving Anelka's spot kick in the 2008 Champions League final

This here is a Dutchman that has tasted the highs (Ajax) and endured the lows (Juventus and at Fulham; no offence to the Cottagers) of football hence retiring on a high at Manchester United after a top quality season of performances in all competitions is just what van Der Sar derseves. Van Der Save earned that nickname with string of saves that belied his 41 years and hopefully the Red Devils won’t go through the conundrum of finding a replacement like it did after Peter Scheimichel retired.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart applauding Spurs' fans after a match

Following in the individual steps of countrymen Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder… out of Real Madrid, van der Vaart added a bit more flair to the game of Tottenham Hotspur, culminated in his 13 goals in 28 league appearances for the Lilywhites and a commendable campaign for the club; one that saw Spurs reach the Champions League quarterfinals in its maiden appearance in the competition.

Ryan Giggs

Ageless Welshman has now won one less league trophies than Arsenal has in its history. If that does not hit you enough in the face, think of it this way; only three clubs in all of England has won more league titles than he has… and the picture should be settling in now. Even at the ripe age of 37 when it is goalkeepers that attain their peak, Giggs proved very instrumental in Manchester United’s title winning campaign with his experience coming in handy and the evidence of speed in him still that belies his age. This here is a Welshman that has got better with age.

And others worthy of making this list fall below:

Didier Drogba

Samir Nasri

Charlie Adam

Antonio Valencia

Dirk Kuyt

Nemanja Vidic

Brede Hangeland

Nani

Charles N’Zogbia

Carlos Tevez

Yaya Toure

Dimitar Berbatov

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Premier League Flops of the Season 2010/11


Fernando Torres    –      Liverpool FC/Chelsea FC

Fernando Torres

It's been almost that horrid at the Bridge for Fernando Torres

He never should have been taken to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa having just recovered from an injury then but Vicente del Bosque chose to and El-Niño unfortunately had an overall campaign to forget. That poor form spilled into his early season at Liverpool from where his heart no longer resided, for whatever reasons and when Chelsea came with its ludicrous £50m bid for the Spaniard; despite his poor form up till then, the Reds gladly obliged. What followed was an even more farcical goal drought that lasted about 900 minutes over 13 matches and ended with some help from the heavens. Somehow, even at Chelsea, I still feel Torres would jump at the first offer from a Spanish club.

Marouane Chamakh –      Arsenal FC

Marouane Chamakh's season went as wrong as the hair-style

Marouane Chamakh's season went as wrong as the hair-style


The Moroccan began life at the Emirates on a very good note, nodding in goal after goal but soon enough the English game told on the import from French side Girondins Bordeaux and his glaring inability to make full use of his lower limbs other than for jumping meant he soon began a goal drought and hence lost his place in the first team; especially with the mercurial form of top choice Robin van Persie. He can fall behind the excuse of “adapting to the English game” and the world should oblige him. Looking on the good side, he arrived at Arsenal on a free transfer… #GoFigure!

Nicklas Bendtner   –      Arsenal FC

Arsène Wenger’s continued faith in the Dane is some way off that God has in mankind but still… such faith is monumental even by human standards. Robin van Persie’s absence early in the season should have been Bendtner’s chance to prove his worth, he did not. A hat trick in the League Cup quarterfinal turned out just a flash in the pan and in the end, his season on loan at Birmingham City remains his most prolific on English soil and considering that the Blues were then in the Championship, says a bit about where he belongs.

Bebe  –      Manchester United

Bebe

Bebe, the £7.5m reserve player


There’s something about not getting a return on an investment, it pisses one off. £7.5m for a virtual unknown recommended to Sir Alex Ferguson by none other than his two-time assistant at Old Trafford Carlos Quieroz and one would have expected the young Portuguese to at least show glimpses of what future holds for the faithful of the Theatre of Dreams alas, his first season was nothing short of nightmarish.

Heurelho Gomes    –      Tottenham Hotspur

Reliable safe hands when on his day, those hands prove outrageously calamitous on other occasions and Gomes had a fair share of mishaps in front of goal this season as five goals conceded were as a direct result of his blunder, a couple of others fortunately did not lead to goals.

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An Imploding Cannon


I feel Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has become too engrossed in bringing out the best or making the most out of the talent(s) of the players at his disposal; most of whom he still regards as ‘youngsters’, as well as looking out for their interests first rather than the team’s that he now finds it quite difficult to win a trophy. The Frenchman; unfortunately for Arsenal, has allowed his emotions toward the Cannon badge side cloud his much better judgment.

For me, the 2010/11 season ranks as the highest level of impotence the Gunners have shown since its unenviable trophy-drought run began after that pyrrhic victory on penalties at the 2005 FA Cup final. Moreover, the north London side has only itself to blame for not winning at least one trophy this season having lost the League Cup final to rank outsiders Birmingham City; no thanks to a lack of communication between a French defender and his Polish goalkeeper, and then allowed a few results to be such as:

Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle United >>> the Toons won with perhaps one of two forays towards the Arsenal goal that day, blessed with a bit of eccentricity on the part of Lukasz Fabianski. Some misfortune for Arsenal at the Newcastle goal meant a sure three points failed to materialize for the Gunners at a time Newcastle was in poor form.

Arsenal 2-3 Westbromwich-Albion >>> With the Gunners in good form, the Baggies were no match for their hosts on paper and Arsenal duly obliged by resting a number of the regular starters. The visitors on their part duly took advantage by racing to a deserved 3-0 lead earned through some breathtaking football by them and it wasn’t till Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri were introduced that the score was made a bit less embarrassing. My failing ego as a Gooner fell a few notches that day though.

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur >>> It is like a stone forced down the throat losing to one’s fiercest rivals, worse still when the match is lost on home turf with a capacity crowd watching on and gravely worse so when such match is lost having ended the first half leading 2-0. The Lilywhites, much credit to them, picked up and took their game to a level the Gunners; by then too cozy to keep the rampaging second half Spurs at bay, couldn’t cope with thus seeing Spurs record a famous win at the Emirates. Another low blow to my Gooner ego.

Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal >>> Took me five minutes to start typing this part… absolutely indescribably ludicrous result for Arsenal that couldn’t have asked for a better first half display that resulted into a 4-0 lead by half time. A lack of team discipline generally and individual discipline from Abou Diaby meant what shouldn’t have been… became. Thus allowing Newcastle United to prize four points from Arsenal this season. Champion material… not!

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool >>> Unfortunate injury to Jamie Carragher in a clash of heads with teammate Flanaghan meant eight minutes of added time was given at the Emirates with the game still goalless at 90 minutes. Dutchman Robin van Persie; whose impeccable form in 2011 came to nothing unfortunately, scored a 98th minute penalty and seemed to have earned three points that would have boosted Arsenal’s shot at overturning Manchester United’s lead in the title race. Alas, Arsenal conceded a penalty converted by another Dutchman Dirk Kuyt in the 102nd minute. Both teams did not deserve to lose in all fairness with Arsenal producing another attacking master class on the day and Liverpool doing likewise with their defensive display but when you take the lead after 98 minutes in a game of 90 minutes, you don’t just lose!

Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal >>> Even though the two-goal lead began dissipating after just three minutes, it remains on record that Arsenal led 3-1 at some point at White Hart Lane and oh the joy Gooners were feeling right then. It was no doubt a great game of football for the purists but it was the fans of the Lilywhites that enjoyed the final outcome, a result that meant Arsenal missed out on being just four points behind league leaders Man. United and hence remain in firm contention for the league title with four matches left of the season then. Instead, it allowed Chelsea replace Arsenal in second place on goal difference, six points behind the Red Devils.

It was after this match at White Hart Lane that Arsenal’s window to realistically catch-up with United in the title race closed and yet again, Gooners are left with the cliché “we’ll see next season” being uttered… shut it!

Wenger needs to toughen up and be ‘axed’ to leave. It’d be a win-win situation as Arsenal needs to return to being a real football club and not an avenue for family gathering on the weekends and the occasional weekdays and Wenger could do with a break from football though I’m sure it’s far from his mind, hence a new atmosphere under which he can manage. He is a very good manager so getting another high profile, Champions League assuring job shouldn’t pose an obstacle as winning a trophy has been since 2005.

Arsenal needs a leader, Francesc Fàbregas is an exceptional talent and a world-class supplier of passes and team creativity but with so much at stake, it takes charisma and firm composure to lead a football club of Arsenal’s stature and Fàbregas is only just assuming these qualities as a player.

Finally, at least one more defender in the mould of Thomas Vermaelen would greatly shore up the backline and give a viable alternative in the event of Vermaelen missing virtually the whole season as he did this season.

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Champions League Review ~ Devils Draw Blank, Tottenham Clawed Back on Tuesday’s Match-Day 1


Seeing the starting XI, it was a little surprise the match at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Rangers of Scotland ended goalless while Werder Bremen’s previous experience in the competition came in handy in the German side’s draw at home to UEFA Champions League debutantes Tottenham Hotspur.

Against the Scots, the Red Devils were just a touch off being lethargic on the night largely thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson’s wisdom to ‘rest’ Edwin Van der Sar, Nani, Paul Scholes (for the love of God, your best performing midfielder?), Dimitar Berbatov (yes, the Bulgarian’s starting to put in performances deserving of the money spent to bring him here…three seasons after!) and Ryan Giggs, who only came on for the last half hour after Antonio Valencia suffered a bad looking ankle injury.

Before the introduction of Giggs, United desperately lacked verve, ideas to slice the visiting defence open; still props should be given for their performance on the night, and apparently the will to win the match as it were. Safe for Darron Gibson’s efforts from long range, it was a near ghastly show-up…near ghastly, it would have been ghastly had Rangers converted any one of its four shots on target.

So what was Sir Alex thinking with his selection for the night, especially in light of Valencia’s (the club now) ease of dispatching their Turkish hosts Bursaspor 4-0. The Spaniards are clearly faring well so far with life after the Davids – Villa and Silva – and former Getafe forward Roberto Soldado looked good in Turkey and rounded up the scoring there.

David Villa got on the score sheet as well for Barcelona that rallied from a 20th minute Sidnei Govou opener for Panathinaikos to see off the visiting Greeks 5-1 at Camp Nou in a match that saw Lionel Messi wreak havoc from right after the opening goal – even though he managed to miss a penalty ten minutes to half time.

Other results saw defending champions Inter Milan, as feared in this post http://wp.me/puIC6-3u found the trip to FC Twente not so rosy though the neutral and more especially the Twente fans will take the 2-2 draw any day. Argentine striker Diego Milito just can’t stop scoring though this time round, he got Twente’s second goal on the night in the Group A encounter. That group remains open for all clubs after an identical result was achieved despite Tottenham Hotspur leading 2-0 after 20 minutes of the match with goals either side of half time earning Werder Bremen a draw at home and a good point earned by Spurs.

Group B saw Benfica beat Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel 2-0 in Lisbon while Olympique Lyon could only manage a lone goal win at home to Schalke 04. Barcelona lead Group D on a healthy goal difference ahead of Danish side FC Copenhagen that left it late before defeating Obafemi Martins’ Rubin Kazan by a lone goal.

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Arsenal’s Week in Perspective


It’s been a good start from the north London club this season with 10 points from four league matches in second place in the Premier League, a good return in front of goal despite the spate of injuries in that department as well as a laudable stingy manner of the defence so far.

Arsenal’s next two matches however have the potential banana skin effect glossed on them especially the trip up north to face Sunderland on Saturday, but first, the visit of Sporting Braga of Portugal on Wednesday night as this season’s UEFA Champions League kicks off this week. The Gunners should be wary of complacency against Braga even though there is a sterling home record standing in the Gunners’ favour against teams from Portugal. Braga pushed FC Porto in its last league match, twice in the lead before losing 3-2 at the Dragao while the club – steadily gaining a reputation of being stubborn – was responsible for the knock out of Celtic in the second qualifying round before gaining the scalp of Sevilla in the final qualifying round.

But Arsenal should have enough quality to overcome Braga on Wednesday night. Marouane Chamakh is slowly seaming into the team and so far is making up for the absence of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner to injury. Captain Cesc Fàbregas still turns in the assured performances, Tomas Rosicky has been in exceptional form, Samir Nasri is back early from injury, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny have been okay in defence all to make injuries to the earlier mentioned along with Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen just for the moment.

A win against Braga being a good bet, it will be a real test to see how Arsene Wenger’s lads can rally to keep up the pace in the league in a tricky trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.

Sometimes, it’s not the team Arsenal is up against but the manager and Steve Bruce knows how to make visiting clubs have a rough, if not outrightly bad afternoon. The Black Cats may be terrible travellers but at home, the spirit suddenly takes possession and when that happens, even Arsenal find it difficult to play in their usual stride of sleek passing till they decide when it’s time to find the back of the net.

And that ‘just one more pass’ syndrome may well be Arsenal’s undoing at the Stadium of Light. As I’ve said in previous articles here, it is games as this against Sunderland that will really help in Arsenal’s quest to end the title drought suffered since ’05. A look at Tottenham Hotspur for example. The lilywhites ultimate achievement will be to have a better season than Arsenal, meaning beating their north London arch rivals whenever their paths cross while dropping points against clubs like Wigan and West Brom…clubs the three points should be an assured collect. Till Spurs overcome their inferiority complex, Arsenal will keep finishing better than Spurs…maybe for the League Cup.

My opinion, four points from the two games this week will just be acceptable from the Gunners but two wins will be more like it to keep proving their title credentials this season because you get the feeling “beautiful football” may soon become boring to the faithful…

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